7 Ways to Increase Online Student Engagement During Distance Learning - The Literacy Dive

7 Ways to Increase Online Student Engagement During Distance Learning

It is definitely that “time of year” where students get tired, lose motivation, and have a lack of energy when it comes to engaging with educational tasks and responsibilities… throw distance learning into the mix and it’s an additional challenge! Parents are busy. Teachers are busy. Students lack a routine and structured schedule causing them to not attend class or keep up with assignments… many students do not get the help and support they need and their motivation plummets, in result. Distance learning and teaching virtually are HARD.

So how do we keep students energized, eager to learn, and motivated while teaching remote?

Number 1: PREPARE YOUR STUDENTS

So this may sound like a “DUH” statement, but it goes deeper than just telling students when to log on. Remember, this is new for all of us! Many students and their parents may have trouble logging in to the learning platform. They also may struggle with maneuvering through the buttons and tabs. The unfamiliar nature to the online learning experience can cause adjustment issues, frustration, basic annoyances.

If you are able to create a screen-recorded video walking your students through basic features and useful functions of the platform, it will seem a little less scary to try it out. If you are in a time crunch, there are SEVERAL tutorials on YouTube that can show exactly what you are wanting to relay. You do not always need to invent the wheel. Visual tutorials are a great way to allow those to walk through the platform slowly, and they provide comfort and support. When students know how to use the platform, they are better able to engage with it and report to you.

Number 2: DISCUSS NORMS DAILY

distance learning norms and expectations chart
Grab this FREEBIE poster in my Resource Library or HERE.

An online, virtual classroom is very different than a traditional, in-person classroom. It is important to establish rules and norms to make the experience a great one, for all. By reviewing norms DAILY, it will help create a level of classroom management, which can get challenging when having to control the space through a computer. You can simply display the norms at the beginning of each session. Call on students to read each norm aloud, and ensure that you follow through and stay consistent with the norms.

When students are not following the norms, I pause teaching to address the norm that was broken and use it as a teachable moment. Staying consistent in the beginning helps to create a positive online, classroom environment, which helps increase participation.

*Please Note* These norms/expectations were decided upon by my class. It was important for them to see each other, if possible, versus navigating distance learning online with a sea of black screens. The “camera ON” is not a requirement, but honestly, there was no pushback from students or parents. We enjoyed our learning and sharing, and it was powerful to see each other! I have only worked in Title I schools and the culture and community we built based on respect, unity, and love made it to where my students honestly are not worried about others seeing where they live. Many decided to add cool, virtual backgrounds and others didn’t. Definitely tailor your chart to what you would like or what your students would like as their norms. 🙂

Number 3: BE THOROUGH, CLEAR, AND ORGANIZED

This goes for the materials you assign, your mini-lesson, moments for student practice and for proper assessment. Once you end the classroom meeting or once students watch your pre-recorded lesson, there is no time for them to come to your desk and ask you how to do something or to ask for clarification. Keeping that in mind, I like to act as if I am planning and delivering content to a student who is new to the country. The amount of detail, visuals, and steps that I would give that child is what I am doing for online learning.

How can you be proactive?

  • Anchor Charts: provide anchor charts for students to refer to that are on topic (the charts can be self-designed or find some on Pinterest)
  • KWL: a day or two before you teach new content, pre-assess your kiddos on what they know and want to learn; this will help you prepare for student questions/misconceptions ahead of time
  • Recorded Q&A: think about student questions and have a recorded Q&A video available for them to play while they are working through tasks
  • Live Q&A: budget in a 3-5 minute time before you dismiss (if teaching live) to answer questions students might have

Keep your online classroom “clutter-free” and organized. Keep activities and assignments titled appropriately, tagged appropriately, and following a consistent format. When there is consistency on the screen and students can learn where to look for certain things, they are more apt to engage versus give up. We want them to attempt. The keyword is CONSISTENCY with organization.

Number 4: BE PRESENT

I know it can be easier to record yourself teaching a lesson, but think about how engaged you are when you are taking training courses that are all online videos. BORING. I think it is an EXCELLENT idea to have a recording of your lesson for students who may miss it, but I have found that it has not been helpful as being the primary means of keeping a connection with my students.

Students should feel as if their teacher is right there with them; students will feel more connected to teachers who are in real-time and speaking back-and-forth. Plus, the kids just NEED it. They need the face time and they need the conversation. They need the laughs and dialogue with peers and they need to hear other perspectives on topics. 

I usually teach better to an audience, so I find my engagement and student attendance increasing when I am there with them. I will record each session to have it available for playback. I love that method because it includes student questions, kids participating and can bring comfort to the students who are catching up by watching the video.

Number 5: STAY IN CONTACT – CHECK IN REGULARLY

Check on your students. During a school year, we have conferences once a quarter and twice a quarter for students who are not meeting promotion standards. These times are different. It is time consuming, BUT when the parents feel and see your love, care, and efforts, that builds a connection and they will try to work with you to get their child more involved. Same for the students. When they can hear from you, they are more inclined to want to see you and attend class meetings.

Each day brings something new. I try to keep in mind, “Yes, ___ was doing well last week, but what changes could have occurred this week?” I know that I can be a stable constant for each of my students, and many that never struggled with stability and routine before, may be struggling now. The regular communication takes some getting used to, but your students NEED it.

When parents feel and see your love, care, and efforts, that builds a connection and they will try to work with you to get their child more involved.

When it comes to online communications, it is not healthy to sit and be available all day. You have to set boundaries and also consider your own families, children, and livelihoods. DO set consistent times that you can check in to your online classroom. Be looking for student/parent questions and misconceptions and try to respond with detail. Students are working at various times a day and we definitely do not want them frustrated because they are confused. Again- maintain boundaries. I tend to check in to my classrooms every 1.5 hours beginning from 7:30am-5:30pm. I am taking into account parent schedules and keeping in mind that this is not a “typical school day”.

This contact also includes providing students with regular feedback. Feedback will help students and their parents feel a sense of normalcy and also gives them that one-on-one feeling of comfort; that “you really see me” feeling. This is a time you can assist with misconceptions and/or praise students with an “excellent job” for their great work during this abnormal time! Giving feedback can look a few different ways – it can be a personal, written message to your student on your learning platform or can be a video message sent to him/her to hear from you about their individual progress. Talk about boosting their confidence growing and their eagerness increasing to want to meet with you virtually “in person” – best feeling ever!  

Number 6: CULTIVATE YOUR ONLINE COMMUNITY

If  someone asked me, “What would you need to participate and get involved?” I would respond, “I would need a place to feel “at home”, to feel valued and cared about, a place to collaborate and share with others, to receive purposeful content, to explore by way of a variety of learning mediums, and a place to have fun!”

With that being said, after sharing our session norms, I open up our time together with a game, thought-provoking questions, a short video clip, or with another team-building activity. By doing this at the beginning, my students are more inclined to be on time, as they do not want to miss the time. The opening activity usually sparks joy and smiles and their morale is boosted! Now I can move into discussing our learning objective for the day.

choosing student names at random "Go-Around Cup"
In class, I use popsicle sticks in a jar, but using card stock and a mug does the trick at home!

As much as I can, I will insert points to call on students. I often will use my “Go-Around Cup” which has all student names inside and I can pull at random. I use this cup for choosing who will share for the day, for popcorn calling to read or discuss, and for managing our “online jobs”:

  • time keeper (keeps track of the session time)
  • norm monitor (helps support me when norms need to be addressed)
  • teacher assistant (helps with anything I need support with in the moment)

Incorporating a few daily online jobs will help with student engagement; they now have responsibilities and the online experience turns into more than just a virtual meeting.

I tend to build time for social learning or partner work. This encourages them to have a buddy or team to connect with offline and really makes each student feel a part of a group. Groups can be designed for anything! Book clubs, spelling practice, peer review and feedback for writing, discussing a science video – anything! The more opportunities you can create social engagements where students are interacting with their peers, you will find their motivation and willingness to complete tasks increase.

Your students NEED the social interactions. This is a great positive of online learning. You can have flexibility, unique learning opportunities, and much grace for yourself! This is a different style of learning but it can still be meaningful, engaging, and fun! 🙂

ALWAYS MAKE TIME FOR FUN!

Number 7: SLOW AND STEADY

We typically are go, go, go! I find that with teaching on an online platform, slow and steady wins the race. Of course our districts want us to maintain the rigor, fly through content standards, and assess. But this is new and different for almost all students. I know my students best and I aim for success. I always keep them in mind over a mandate.

My students retain and digest information in small chunks. Sometimes, “bite-sized learning” is most effective. This means that instead of teaching 2-3 skills in a week, I may only focus on 1 skill and teach that skill in depth, allowing for many opportunities for practice. If a child has to miss a session, they will not “fall behind”. It is important to gauge your pace. Move at a pace that is manageable for you, the parents, and the students. Plus, we can probably agree that when you receiving information bit by bit, you have a better chance of remembering and recalling it.

Always know that YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE and YOU ARE DOING ENOUGH.

I hope this encouraged someone today. Know that distance learning is different. It takes adjusting to and not every student has the necessary means to have the same experience as someone else. Meet your students where they are and walk alongside them. Each student and family unit really needs to be considered and treated uniquely. What you are doing and providing is making an impact. You are doing GREAT!


Read more: How To Print on Sticky Notes in 4 Quick and Easy Steps

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Hey, I'm Megan!

I am a literacy specialist and curriculum designer who loves sharing tips and ideas to help students thrive in literacy! It brings me joy to await those a-ha moments and to see light bulbs turn on!

I have a huge passion for reading and writing and love to co-mingle the two any chance I get! You can expect to learn new strategies and ways to keep your students engaged during your literacy block! I am so glad you’re here!

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